Form and Content
Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of a leading Russian poet, Osip Mandelstam, spent most of her married life sharing the tragic fate of her husband. After years of ostracism, persecution, and enforced silence, Osip Mandelstam succumbed to inhumane treatment in a concentration camp in the Far Eastern Region of the Soviet Union, on December 27, 1938. Nadezhda Mandelstam herself feared for her safety, even her life, for many years after her husband’s death. After having been saved by sheer luck, as she was convinced, and after years of struggling for survival, she was finally able to write down her memories of her life with Mandelstam, of his constant and hopeless confrontation with the inscrutable authorities, and of her experiences of that uneven struggle.
The first volume of her memoirs, Vospominaniya (1970; Hope Against Hope: A Memoir, 1970), deals primarily with the four-year period between her husband’s first arrest, in 1934, and his final arrest, in 1938. The sequel, Hope Abandoned (the title is a pun on Nadezhda Mandelstam’s given name, which means “hope” in Russian), describes the Mandelstams’ years together from their first meeting, in 1919, to the period covered in the previous volume; the author also recounts her experiences and the fates of friends and acquaintances in the decades following Mandelstam’s death. Hope Abandoned, however, is not only a narrative of events. Like its predecessor, but even more so, it includes digressions on poetic, political, and religious themes; indeed, it might be said that in writing the second volume of her memoirs, Nadezhda Mandelstam realized that this was her opportunity to make a final reckoning with her time, to say everything that she had left unsaid in Hope Against Hope.
The main purpose of both volumes is to preserve the memory of Mandelstam, both as a poet and as a man; to...
(The entire section is 778 words.)